Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday Repentance

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

Our confession of waste and pollution of creation and of our lack of concern for future generations bears on environmental stewardship more obviously than do other parts of the Litany of Penitence. A closer examination and reflection on our Ash Wednesday prayers, however, reveal many links between the faults we confess and the way we do -- or do not -- care for the earth.

Confession of our self-indulgence, exploitation of other people, an intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our blindness to human needs and suffering are intertwined with the way we care for the environment. In particular, environmental degradation often affects people living in poverty to a greater degree than it affects wealthier people.

On April 21, the Episcopal Church will sponsor an ecumenical forum on the topic of The Intersection of Poverty and the Environment. The forum, which will be webcast at 11:00 Central time, will feature Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. For now, the fact that the church is highlighting the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation provides a starting place for reflection during Lent.

Today’s text from Isaiah (Isaiah 58:1-12) says that a true fast, a day truly acceptable to the Lord, consists of acts of mercy and justice. When we do these things, says Isaiah, we will find ourselves strengthened and guided by God. The passage ends with the statement that those who meet the needs of others and relieve suffering will “be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in”. We cannot repair and restore the world so that everyone has adequate food and water and health unless we greatly reduce pollution and address climate change. In a complex world, habits and actions that seem innocent and harmless to us might very well be causing hardship for people somewhere else. Part of following Jesus is learning more about our world, more about the sources of pollution and climate change and their effects, so that we can be certain it is Jesus we are following.

God of the desert, as we follow Jesus into the unknown,
may we recognize the tempter when he comes;
let it be your bread we eat,
your world we serve and you alone we worship.

(From the Collects for Ash Wednesday in A New Zealand Prayer Book , p. 573.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Transfiguration: Doing and Being

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. (From Mark 9:2-10 )
The beauty and wonder of the Transfiguration so overwhelmed Peter, James, and John that they were terrified. Not knowing what to do or say with that depth of experience, Peter says: “…let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He wants to fix the moment, enclose the wonder, keep it. Doing so would make it manageable; the dwellings would literally enclose Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

Creating objects to make life better is an essential human trait; creativity is something we cultivate, encourage, and applaud. However, our doing and creating needs to be balanced with being and wondering. The urge to create, to make something, to do something, can keep us from being still in the face of wonder. If we substitute doing and building for standing in wonder at a vision of the holy or an experience of great beauty or emotion, we keep ourselves from spiritual maturity. And when we build and engineer and manufacture without awareness of the way we and the things we are creating fit into God’s creation, our creativity leads us to be agents of destruction of God’s creation rather than the co-creators God invites us to be.

I’m on the Hawaiian island of Kauai this week, a place full of beauty and wonder. It’s been a good place for reflection on the Transfiguration Gospel for the last Sunday in Epiphany. Here are a couple of observations of our impulse to do something and the unintended consequences when we create things without calculating the consequences.

The weather this morning was wild – lots of wind with passing showers and high surf. When I walked on the beach early this morning, I saw all sorts of things that had washed ashore. The power of the ocean, the changing sky, the birds that sang every time a rain shower ended and the sun returned, all were worthy of a few moments to simply watch and listen. Like others along the beach, I took some photos, but also stood and absorbed the wonder of the morning. 

Later in the day, I returned to the beach and saw this marvelous structure made from driftwood. I wonder if this creation came about as a response to a moment of wonder, or if the wonder were pushed aside in order to do something to bring order out of the chaos of the storm and keep it at arm’s length. It may be something like the dwellings or booths Peter was ready to build for Jesus, Moses and Elijah!

Divers have observed a large die-off of sea urchins off the coast of Kauai. An article in The Garden Island newspaper quotes a scientist saying that sea urchins are “a keystone species”; they serve as sort of early warning system for major changes in the ocean. The die-off of sea urchins often precedes the death of coral reefs.

Coral reefs elsewhere have been dying as a result of warming oceans and ocean acidification caused by oceans absorbing the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientists haven’t determined why these particular sea urchins are dying. The die-off happened where soil from corn fields planted with GMO corn gets washed into the sea. Whatever the cause, it may well be connected to something we have created – the use of fossil fuels or genetically modified crops or something else intended to make our lives easier or better – without considering and calculating the consequences.

Peter’s terror of the wonder of the Transfiguration causes him to want to rush in and do something; Mark tells us he didn’t know what to say, how to respond. Our constant rushing in to do things and make things sometimes reflects our inability to respond appropriately to the wonder of God’s creation. Learning to be still and wonder is something we Christians can model to encourage better stewardship of God’s creation.